By Constantinos Psillides
THE chief of the island’s main hospital has refuted claims of misconduct by his medical examiners, saying that the “ridiculous” allegations described in a detailed letter sent to the Minister of Health were the work of a disgruntled morgue assistant.
“He is a bitter employee who wasn’t paid for overtime,” said Dr. Petros Matsas, head of the Nicosia General Hospital where the state morgue is located. Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC, Matsas said that the morgue assistant was lying because the hospital didn’t pay him in time.
“We have new procedures for overtime pay and travel expenses. The assistant hasn’t been compensated but instead of being patient he went forth and brought out these lies,” he said.
In what could have been a scene out of the famous 1931 movie Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, the disgruntled employee claims he had been removing organs and conducting autopsies without any medical training.
The morgue assistant accused medical examiners of neglecting their duties by forcing him to conduct autopsies, according to a letter he sent last week to Health Minister Philippos Patsalis, which were published in the local press.
The assistant, who doubles up as a car mechanic, claimed in his letter to the minister that instead of just helping in the autopsy process he regularly performs them, without any help from the medical examiners.
“They just stay in their offices and ask me about the cause of death. They also force me to come in on weekends, threatening me with dismissal if I didn’t. I’m also substituting for the last 30 months for morgue assistants in other districts with no travel expenses paid,” he said in his letter, adding that the medical examiners exploit the system by claiming 2-3 times the amount of overtime.
The assistant also said that he had to extract organs from cadavers without previously having been instructed on the proper procedure.
“In some cases, evidence is destroyed,” he claimed, adding that medical examiners were often not present for a number of autopsies, with the exception of Dr. Eleni Antoniou.
The morgue assistant also claimed that when it comes to crime cases the medical examiners pretend that they are working, when the investigating police officer is present. “They don their robes on the spot. They don’t handle the corpse, they don’t even wear gloves,” he says.
Asked why a car mechanic was hired as a morgue assistant, NGH chief Matsas explained that no prior medical knowledge is needed for the job as all morgue assistants are trained either by senior assistants or the medical examiners.
Matsas refuted claims that the assistant conducted autopsies, saying that they are “ridiculous”.
The NGH director said that an investigation is underway to test the validity of the assistant’s claims. He said that that an additional investigation has been ordered after a family member said during a TV show that the assistant had patient files in his possession.
“That’s a disciplinary offence. Nobody is allowed to take patient files without the consent of the hospital. That’s outrageous,” Matsas said.
Medical examiner Sofoclis Sofocleous, speaking on behalf of the examiners, rejected the accusations. He added that the morgue assistant is paid for any overtime he worked and that part of his job description is to remove organs.
“Personally, I don’t trust him to do so and I’m always present when he attempts to remove organs,” the medical examiner said.